I Wouldn’t Trade My Life. Or Would I?

Sunrise dogsThis morning, the alarm on my phone went off at 5:20 a.m. My entire body finds that time of day VERY alarming. In a numb haze of sleepy denial, I reach for the phone to hit snooze. Five more minutes. Five more blissful minutes.

In what SURELY was only 30 seconds, the annoyingly diligent alarm sounds again. I reach toward it aiming for that lovely snooze feature “just one more time.” My attempt is efficiently thwarted by a rather large, insistent paw planted firmly in the middle of my chest. Fifty-plus pounds of reality shifts her full weight onto said planted paw and proceeds to lick my face into consciousness which in turn awakens my often impatient bladder. God forbid those 50-plus pounds shift the pressure from chest to lower abdominal region.

I’m up. I’m UP!

Twenty-someodd tails wagging in approval, I stumble to the bathroom knowing I have a moment of solitude before the avalanche that is also known as my normal day starts rolling around me.

My own “pressing need” attended to, I start the routine I can thankfully move efficiently through in an I’m-not-a-morning-person-by-choice zombie state. Dogs rotate out to potty. The foster puppy pen gets cleaned while delighted puppies wiggle exactly in my way at every turn. Water buckets get filled. Ears get scratched. My feet get trampled a hundred times. Somewhere in there I mumble a good-morning to Jim and stop to give him what he may perceive as a hug, but I actually know I have collapsed against him for momentary support. He’s strong in the morning.

Dogs are pottied and as several of them annoyingly return to MY bed for a little extra slumber, I climb the stairs for a life-giving shower and five more minutes of warm, steamy solitude. Well…sort of. There will be noses poking through the shower curtain in ongoing wonder at my willingness to get drenched and shampooed without being forced. There will also be two dogs reliably curled on the bath mats outside the shower, forcing me to step barefooted on the cold tile floor instead of on fluffy warmth. Brooke and Stormy are always there waiting for me. You may think it a sweet gesture on their part. I’m fairly sure they’re just on assignment to make sure I do not escape the house without feeding everyone breakfast.

For the record, I never fail to feed them breakfast or dinner, but they are ever-skeptical.

Shower complete, I come back down the stairs a tad more sturdy on my own feet. I rotate dogs out for another romp in the yard while I make my breakfast smoothie and head back to do damage-control on my face and hair. I may not FEEL awake and raring to go, but I need to look the part. Maybe it’s ambition, maybe it’s Maybelline.

My morning routine does not take long because I eventually look in the mirror and say, “Oh, screw it. That’s good enough.” I then get dressed in my finest professional attire (thank GOD that’s jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and running shoes). It’s a huge plus to glance in the mirror and see no pre-existing slobber smears glistening on my clothes in the flickering light of the bathroom (flickering because I need to change some bulbs and keep telling myself to do that when I have a minute…and I religiously forget until the next morning’s routine).

Dressed and presentable, I turn to face the herd of expectant faces at the baby gate that steadfastly guards our shoes and clothing from the creativity of canine family.

Group of dogsTime for breakfast. Stand back, don’t try this on your own, I’m a trained professional. I can feed 20-someodd dogs in 10 minutes or less.

I stack the bowls in the unique order that makes perfect sense to me, but to no one else on earth. I sling the right food in the right amounts into each bowl. I add warm water because, gravy. The salivating dogs move in eager, choreographed groups as each bowl is placed in each specific dog’s eating spot in exactly the same order as the day before. They know when and where they eat, they know “bowl-diving” is not allowed. It all goes smoothly in a fashion I lovingly call controlled chaos.

As the satisfying sound of 20-someodd dogs slurping up water-logged kibble surrounds me, I make another pass to fill water buckets. I re-clean the puppy pen (this happens a lot). And then everyone else goes outside to potty once again.

I say my goodbyes to Jim. I deliver pats and “be goods” to all the dogs, stooping to give my boy Howie a kiss on his forehead. I grab my stuff and head out making sure no furry bodies slip out the door with me.

The household as conquered as it possibly can be for now, I bolt out to feed the chickens and open their run for a little daytime free-ranging. Mental note, must clean the coop later today. Must.  Then I jump in my Jeep.

Guess what? NOW I get to start my day.

But the next 30 to 40 minutes are Nancy-time. Relative peace and quiet with a few hundred other commuters heading my direction. Ahhhhh…drive-time.

I listen to an audio book. Right now I’m addicted to the Andy Carpenter series of murder mysteries by David Rosenthal. Great stories salted with a healthy dose of humor AND there are always dogs written in because, in addition to being a prolific author, Rosenthal, runs a dog rescue out of his home (Hey, me too!). Where he lives with 20-someodd dogs (Hey, me too!). My brother from another mother.

Morning traffic can’t even fluster me when I’m in the oasis known as Duke, my Jeep Wrangler, listening to a good book. It’s 100% rejuvenating.

I arrive at work, the business I have co-owned with a friend for just over 13 years now (and hey, still friends!). Our business is Pooches, a dog daycare and boarding facility. So yeah, I just left a herd of dogs only to be greeted by a few dozen more. There’s a pattern here and it includes lots of pee, poop, and cleaning. I’m good at that and good with that.

None of this is written in complaint. I love my life. I love my dogs, both the on-purpose ones and the fosters, and I love the dogs that come see me at Pooches. I love helping dogs that are not as fortunate as my own. I love Jim and I love/am grateful that Jim shares my passion for dogs and animal welfare. That’s a lot of love right there.

I really wouldn’t trade my life.  I am where I am supposed to be right now, doing what I was meant to do. But you know, if some kind publisher out there somewhere reads this and thinks, “Hey, I think I’m going to give that little blogger a break.” I’d be really good with that too. Especially if that break actually comes with an income.

The thought that I might get paid to work from home by putting words into a document that become a real book (and I’m talking the hard-backed, hold it in your hands variety)…whew…that’s win-the-lottery stuff in my mind. I’d be so down for that. Someday. I really would. Just putting it out there. Surely someone linked to publishing reads obscure blogs from time to time? I would truly love to have one more “hey, me too” to share with David Rosenthal.

And I think I will. Because after all, dreams are just my future reality waiting for me to come up with a plan.

But for now, there is my little blog. And there is my amazing business. And there are dogs looking at me expectantly because it’s walk time. And there is poop to clean up. And dog bowls to wash. And…and…and. And then there’s always drive-time when I can do a little more dreaming/planning before I return home to Jim and our furry family to do the whole process again. And that will be followed by the great play and snuggle time that only 20-someodd dogs can deliver.

Ahhhhhhhh.

 

 

 

 

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When Hope is Born

IMG_7097The moment I met her I knew she was special. Or maybe it’s that I could feel how special she was.

It’s not that she gave me an enthusiastic greeting. In fact, she really didn’t even raise her head. She was tired, sick, and, well, I can only tell you that I felt she was heartbroken. It’s not something I can explain easily, but the feelings rolling off this sweet dog hit me full force.  So far, in her young life, I believe the world had done nothing but let her down.

39750197_2331274450235193_2842965249814953984_oFirst I felt how exhausted she was. And then I felt her aches and pains followed by waves of uncertainty and resignation. But then I felt a little flicker. Something in those soft brown eyes reached deep in my heart. I think it was longing. This good, good soul longed for simple things like comfort and safety. She didn’t dare envision anything more.

She was found by some very wonderful and caring women at the Tulsa Botanical Garden office. She had found her way to them and then just plopped down in the dirt, not able to raise the energy to take one more step. They saw to her immediate needs by giving her water on a steamy summer’s day, and then a bowl of food. They applied drops to her shoulders to rid her of the hundreds of ticks that were draining her body. They gave her the first relief she had likely known in months…or even years.

They messaged me through our non-profit Dalmatian rescue for the help they knew she needed beyond what they could provide in the short-term. I looked at the photos coming across my phone of a dog that appeared completely drained and defeated. She was by no stretch of the imagination a purebred Dalmatian, but this dog pulled at me through her images. I loved her before I ever gave her that first reassuring pat.

Her name became Tansy, a nod to her rescuers who also tended to the beautiful flowers at the Botanical Gardens. Her veterinary exam quickly revealed that the legions of ticks she endured had left her with an unwelcome gift in the form of ehrlichia, a tick-borne disease. Her aches, pains, and lethargy had a catalyst…one that now identified, we could and would chase into submission.

Tansy settled into our veterinarian’s kennel to begin her journey to good health. And there, she told me she felt safe. She had everything she thought she needed. A space of her own, soft blankets, people who stopped in to give hugs, fresh water, and good food twice a day, every single day. And with that, a few of the cracks in her tired heart began to fill.

Then, a week later, I returned with a leash. As soon as I slipped it around her neck, she habitually turned toward the door that led out to the kennel yard. But this time, I urged her toward a different door, the door that led out of the hospital.

Sweet Tansy immediately stopped. Her eyes clouded with concern, her head and tail drooped low. Again I could feel her. This place was safe, she didn’t want to leave. The unknown…the “what next”…had never been her friend. She had no reason to trust anything on the other side of that hospital door.

I coaxed her, I encouraged her, I made her so many promises. Slowly, reluctantly, she followed me to the parking lot and allowed me to help her into my car. Her protest was quiet, her resignation to whatever was to come escaped her in a long, deep sigh as she laid her head down staring blankly into the back of my Jeep.

I concentrated hard, trying to send her feelings and mental pictures, just as she had done for me. I thought about my house with all of the soft dog beds and dog-friendly furniture. I envisioned our big backyard and how beautiful the view is at sunrise when dewdrops on every strand of grass sparkle like precious gems. I thought about the resident dogs out romping and playing, then coming inside to stretch out in the air-conditioned comfort. I thought about how our dogs didn’t have a care in the world.

Could she hear me? Did she feel the peaceful images I was trying to send to her? I could see her in the rearview mirror, head still down, unmoving, but maybe I did feel some little glances my way. A little desire to trust blooming in her own mind.

We arrived home and she glanced around tentatively as she peered out of the open car door. As she stepped to the ground she sniffed a bit, taking in more information than any of us can imagine with each small inhalation. We walked to the house and I could feel her uncertainty mounting. There was not much I could do for her beyond offering my own calm demeanor as her guide.

Once in the house she was met by a few of our calmer dogs. Oh, poor girl. She wanted nothing to do with their inquisitive sniffs or their wagging invitations. She sat quickly in a “please go away” gesture. Her back curved, her ears pressed in worry to the sides of her head, her lips ruffling slightly in protest if any of the dogs tried to come toward her face.

“Too much! Too much!” the feelings cried. And so I listened. I let her scurry into a large crate covered on three sides by a blanket so she could have refuge. I gave her some fresh water and a little snack and then I let her just be. She needed to process. She needed to just be a spectator.

The other dogs in the house…and there are quite a few…came to the front of the crate to meet the newcomer. They were met with furtive glances and quiet, grumbling protests not born of aggression, but rather of fear. “Not yet,” the feelings said. “Please let me be invisible.”

And so, after initial curiosity was satisfied, the other dogs of our household, both our own dogs and our foster dogs, moved on. There were toys to be chewed, birds to be chased, and sunbeams that begged for nap partners.

IMG_7108One hour passed, two hours, a visit outside by herself, and then straight back to the crate. Her idea, not mine. “Not yet.”

Three hours, four hours passed and I left the crate door open. “Up to you,” I thought.

That evening, with all of the other dogs snoozing around the living room, I heard a little rustle. From the corner of my eye I saw her tiptoe out of the crate for a brief look around. Then she slipped back into the safety of her little cave. “That’s fine,” I thought. “At your own pace, in your own time.”

She slept the whole night in the open crate. Her trips to the yard were still solo and protected from prying noses.

But that next morning I saw it – that undeniable little glimmer called hope.

She stepped quietly out of the crate and into our midst By now, my dogs, who are very accustomed to newcomers, were not so curious about our new friend.  They went about their business, weaving Tansy into our routine with little fanfare.

But to Tansy, every part of our routine was amazing. There was food on a regular basis. First she ate nervously, as if someone would surely come to steal her share. Then she ate with focused gusto, no longer glancing over her shoulders with each bite.

Time outside was cherished. The yard was safe from people shooing her away. She could lounge in the shade of the porch or she could lie in the soft grass for a nap in the sun. And when she was ready, the door to the inside was always open to her, welcoming her back to the house.

IMG_7125There were treats, belly rubs, soft brushes, cushy beds. Routine was pure Heaven to this dog who had known nothing but uncertainty. And just as her little space at the vet hospital had become her safe place, so this new place became her haven as well. She started to trust the routine and all of the little things the other dogs knew as constants.

She also started feeling physically better as the medicine chased disease from her body. Her coat softened and filled in. Her ribs were no longer so easy to count. Her eyes no longer darted away, but held a gaze, steady and soft.

And then, one day, I pulled out the leash again. With a deep breath I asked her to trust me. In the car, I could feel her old nemesis uncertainty welling up and I did my best to reassure knowing that only experience could bring true peace.

As we pulled into the drive of the tree-shaded home, a woman walked out, a warm smile spreading across her face at her first glimpse of Tansy.

And the feelings! Oh the feelings. For once, Tansy moved out ahead of me and went straight to the woman. Sitting politely, directly in front of her, Tansy raised her head up to look straight into the woman’s face.

Together, we all sat out in the backyard, Tansy meeting the quiet, kind man of the home as well. She moved between the two, enjoying their attention. She met their dogs with careful curiosity instead of concern. Inside the tidy house, she relaxed calmly at the feet of her new friends.

Not wanting to turn her world suddenly upside down again, Tansy returned home with me that day with plans in place for her ultimate transfer to the couple I had now chosen as her new family. After a few days, I packed up her medicine, wrote out her care instructions, packed a bag of food and a favorite toy, placed a new tag on her collar, and loaded Tansy into the car for a very important ride.

This time, instead of turning her back and lying with her head down between her front legs, Tansy sat looking forward. What was that I felt from her this time? Expectation?

As we once again pulled into the shady drive in front of what was to be her new permanent home, Tansy’s feelings manifested in the form of a thumping tail. Was recognition possible after just one visit? I guess when you visit the right place, it most certainly is.

This time, there was no hesitation as she hopped from the car. She headed straight for the door that was immediately opened by the gentle woman with the wonderful smile. I knelt down to whisper the words I promise to every foster dog that leaves our care for a new home, “I have picked this home just for you and it’s a good one. You will be safe and loved, but remember, I’m always here for you if you need me, whether it’s in a day or in 10 years. I love you. Be happy now.”

Then, as I turned to leave, she gave me her own gift as she looked directly at me, her own eyes bright and shining with feelings that can only be described as trust and hope. Beautiful, newly born hope.

Good for you, Tansy. Enjoy your happily-ever-after.  I think I’ll always be able to feel you in my heart, no matter where your journey with your new family takes you. And right now, finally, the feelings are really, blissfully good.

Sunrise wag

Behind Me, to the Left

boog 8 18I make breakfast as I do every day. Fast.

When you are feeding 20-plus hungry dogs, fast is a good skill. I realize that last statement places me in the “crazy dog lady” category, and I’m good with it.

What is normal for me and Jim is outlandish to most. Suspect, even. But rest assured, our dogs are well-loved, well cared for, and well spoiled. We run a rescue and foster most of our furry charges ourselves. This means our home is a bit different from most, but it’s also chaotically fun and incredibly snuggly.  Hey, if the Duggers can manage all those kids, whats a couple dozen dogs?

So back to breakfast. I have a system, I know which bowl is going to which dog, I know how much each dog eats. Yeah, I have mad kibble skills. On the other side of the coin, the hungry dogs know the drill as well. They know where they eat, they know in what order they will be served. Newcomers catch on fast. It is the same every single day.

Except today.

Today, as I set the bowls down, each one in the same order as always, I hit a glitch. Howie’s bowl, Kainan and Snow next, Mickey, and on, and on, until I turn to my left with Boog’s bowl. Boog isn’t there.

Boog always eats just behind where I prep the food and to the left. Only one other time in the history of Boog has his smiling face failed to be in that spot at mealtime. And that turned out to be a bad, scary day.

That was the day we almost lost our boy to a splenic tumor, the silent monster that decided to very suddenly make its terrifying presence known. Thankfully, we knew the symptoms, and thankfully we were able to save his life. (Read the whole story here.) But that tumor turned out to be more than just a one-time unwelcome guest. Boog was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a rapidly growing, highly invasive variety of cancer that occurs almost exclusively in dogs.

Ultrasound also revealed a mass in Boog’s perfect, sweet heart. No biopsy can safely be done, but the logical assumption is that it is the same type of cancer. A cruel double whammy for our special boy.

No dog deserves this diagnosis, but certainly not Boog. He is the boy who captured our hearts from the moment he was born. His mother was our foster dog, Olive. She came to us in a very delicate condition and soon delivered eight healthy little polar bears…Boog the only one to be completely soft white with no patches of color.

IMG_9858Over the first weeks of their lives it was amazing to watch the overcoat of black or red hairs mixing in with the white to create the trademark blue or red coloring of the cattle dog. Often, I would come home from work to check on Olive and her family only to find seven squirming pups instead of eight. That eighth little guy could always be found nestled on Jim’s shoulder. I knew pretty early on that Boog would not be leaving the farm.

Boog was one of those dogs that just fell perfectly into our world. We never gave him a minute of formal training, yet he has always been the dog that will stick to your heels, leash or no leash, no matter where you go. He is loyal, smart, and quick to figure things out. He’s the dog I can take with me when training with a shy or reactive dog. He is an excellent teacher’s aide. If Boog has a flaw, it’s that he just can’t hold his licker. If you are going to say a close and personal hello to Boog, he may just think your face needs a quick and thorough washing as well.

And now, in an unfair twist of fate, veterniary medicine was trying to tell us our Boog’s prognosis was grim. Statistically speaking, dogs with this type of cancer have a life expectancy of only one to three months post diagnosis. But as far as I can see, Boog does not have an expiration date printed anywhere on his handsome little body. So statistics be damned.

Because Boog’s health is otherwise good, we decided to give chemotherapy a try with the agreement that if it was too hard on him in any way, we would stop. We want our boy’s time in this life to be happy and as care-free as possible. So quality will always rule the day for him.

Boog cruised through his first treatment remarkably well. Three weeks after that, he handled his second treatment like a school boy thumbing his nose at the playground bully. Then, after another three weeks, he had his third treatment. And that brings us to the day, three days post treatment, when Boog was not behind me, to the left, in line for breakfast. And the same was true for dinner that evening.

He was quiet. The switch on his normal full-body squirm was in the off position. He looked at his food bowl with troubled eyes, licking his lips and turning his head away. The cumulative effects of the chemo had finally caught up to him. We had medicine on hand for this possibility to help sooth his queezy stomach. We would help him feel better. Tomorrow he would surely be in his place.

But tomorrow let us down. Once again, when I turned around to my left with food in hand, Boog was absent, once again for both breakfast and dinner. We tried chicken. We tried canned food. We tried. Boog’s sweet face answered with a polite, quiet no-thank-you each time.

The next tomorrow failed us too and I felt my heart getting squeezed just a little tighter with each rejected meal.

It made me question the logic of pushing on. In truth, Boog was not horribly ill. He was not throwing up. He was not completely shut down. It was nothing terribly dramatic. But knowing Boog…well…it was just hard to see him down like that.

On the sixth day post chemo, I stood in my usual spot, surrounded by the normal undulating sea of hungry canine energy. I fixed all of the bowls. placed them in order on the counter. I gave Howie his bowl. I fed Kainan and Snow, Mickey, and so on. Then it was time to turn behind me to the left.

20180528_124814And there, in all of his eager glory, was Boog. His eyes were bright with anticipation. His body vibrating with his trademark, barely contained energy. Boog was ready for his meal.

As soon as I placed the bowl in front of him, he was gobbling his food down with his normal do-I-really-need-to-chew intensity. I stood for a moment reveling in the snarf, crunch, gulp sounds before the impatience of a dozen or so other dogs brought me back to my Flo-the-waitress persona and I continued slinging bowls to my famished patrons.

Boog’s clean bowl on this day was a thing of beauty, especially given the fact that we had just passed the three-month mark post surgery. You know, the mark medical science suggested we wouldn’t likely see. I never was very good at science. Thank goodness Boog doesn’t seem to pay attention to it either.

We have two more chemo appointments ahead. I take a very deep breath every time I think about that. In reality, Boog really is doing well. His blood work is holding steady and I’d say 98% of the time he acts like his normal self. But oh how that 2% twists around in my heart and mind. Math is no more my subject than science, but during this journey 2% seems HUGE at times.

Today, however, we are securely back in our wiggly, hungry, always-behind-me-to-the-left 98% happy place. This place feels very good. I will work hard to not let 2% of doubt overshadow 98% of hope. I think even my past math and science teachers would unanomously applaud that idea.

Hey Boog, I still don’t see any expiration dates on you. See you at dinner, buddy.

IMG_2914 (2) Revised

 

 

There’s No Place Like Home. Just ask Boog.

 

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Adorable pic of Boog by Kara Hamilton. Mad photos skills.

Please, take me home.

I could hear his voice as clearly as if he suddenly had been granted the gift of human language.  However, the voice I was hearing was not audible, but rather coming from the pleading look in his tired eyes.

I need to g20180528_130955o home. 

Looking down at my boy, hooked up to all kinds of monitors, IV lines, a feeding tube, and a catheter, I knew it couldn’t happen. Not right now, Boog. You need to be here for now. I would not tell him no. Instead, I would tell him, and myself, soon. Soon, Boog.

Boog’s journey to this place, to the intensive care unit of a well-respected specialty veterinary hospital was brief and terrifying. On Sunday morning when we woke up, he was just a little off.

He didn’t want his breakfast – something that hasn’t happened in the nearly 10 years he has lived with us. He went away to a quiet part of the house to rest by himself – also not normal for our always-where-you-are, busy little cattle dog.

I had to leave the house to run a few errands, so told Jim about Boog’s odd behavior and asked him to keep an eye on him. So far, his breathing was normal, his gums and tongue were a good pink color, and he would get up and move around if asked. But a niggling little fear was bouncing around inside my gut.

Watch him. Don’t leave him alone.

Within a couple of hours Jim called to say that he was rushing Boog to a nearby vet that thankfully had Sunday hours. Boog had grown very weak…our boy was crashing. Already in my car heading home, I spun the wheel in the direction of the veterinary hospital to meet them.

The little fear that had been whispering inside me was now yelling at me, especially when I saw Boog again and could see how pale the pink areas of his lips and gums had become.

“Check his spleen,” I asked the moment we saw a veterinarian. Experience with so many dogs, especially the seniors we have taken in over the years, has taught us valuable lessons about the warning signs of several common, but deadly afflictions that can plague our dogs.  Older dogs are prone to tumors forming on their spleens. You won’t have any warning unless you happen to do x-rays or an ultrasound for some other reason and are lucky enough to find it. Most often a splenic tumor isn’t found until it ruptures and makes itself known with frightening, grim certainty.

My fear was quickly confirmed and our sweet boy was raced into surgery as we settled in for one very hard waiting game.

Boog came through surgery well enough, but during recovery his heart rate jumped to a concerning level. Instead of bringing Boog home to recover, he had to be transferred to the specialty veterinary hospital for 24-hour care.

“It’s just for the night, buddy,” Jim and I told him. “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

But tomorrow came and went with little improvement. Then another tomorrow. We visited our boy, we sat with him, watching for any little signs that he was turning that all-important corner. We knew there were a lot of hurdles in his future, the largest one being the question of the still-pending results of the biopsy on his tumor, but despite everything looming around us, despite all the what-ifs tapping us on the shoulder, we stayed focused on one thing. Boog needed to come home.

20180515_194301At the end of day three, as Boog flipped his tail against his bedding in greeting and we were starting to feel he was showing signs of improvement, one of the veterinarians stuck a pin in that little balloon of hope we were desperately trying to inflate.

“I don’t think Boog will be able to leave the hospital.”

Now, if you digest that statement for a moment, you pretty quickly realize she is suggesting that your dog should be euthanized. This was not the news we were prepared to hear. More importantly, it was not the message we were hearing from Boog.

The veterinarian had very valid concerns. Boog’s breathing was labored. He wasn’t showing a desire to get up…to try to move around. She and her collegues feared issues with his lungs that would lead to certain suffering and death. They had an educated hunch. But so did we.

Jim and I are very rational people. Because of our rescue work, we have loved and cared for more dogs at the end of their lives in the span of a few years than most people have in a lifetime. We do not let our dogs suffer. We do know when it’s time to let go.

But still…all I could hear was that quiet, insistent voice in my head.

I need to go home. Please, just take me home.

And then it hit me. Every time Jim and I visited Boog in the hospital, no matter how tired he was, no matter how bad he felt, he always gave us a tail wag. Always. And each time the techs overseeing his constant care would comment, “Oh look, he wagged his tail! He hasn’t done that for us.”

Boog ALWAYS wags his tail. No matter what. This dog is the friendliest, cheeriest dog I know. Not wagging his tail in greeting to the humans caring for him was HUGE. He was sending a message loud and clear.

So I faced the veterinarian who was trying to let us down so gently. I took a deep breath to quiet the huge lump in my throat as I smiled and told her that I thought Boog was depressed. I explained that we fully understood her concerns and that we all wanted what was best for Boog. And on this night, what Jim and I knew was best for our dog was to let him leave the hospital.

It was against the vet’s better judgement. I assured her we would stay with him every minute and if he started to have any more issues, we would have our personal vet on call to end any suffering, day or night. What was important in that moment was to get Boog home in time to watch sunset with us on our own front porch.

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Home, watching the sun set.

And so all of the tubes were unhooked. All of the monitors turned off. Boog was wheeled out to our waiting car on a gurney where one of the vet techs who had been caring for him helped Jim gently transfer Boog into the car, tears pooling in her eyes. In her mind, this was a goodbye. Bless her for caring for each of her patients so very much.

We got Boog home just in time to sit with him while the sun painted the sky in a pallet of colors that wished us a peaceful good night. Together, we watched our boy through the evening. Then Jim kept his special buddy company through the first night, I was on duty the following night.

And so the magic of home went to work. Boog’s eyes grew brighter. His tail thumped more often and with greater enthusiasm. His breathing calmed. He gained strength, step by step. And his appetite gradually returned.

Over the course of one week, with support from our personal veterinarian (how lucky are we that one of our dearest friends is also our trusted veterinarian?), we watched a furry miracle unfold. Boog went from a dog flat on his side with tubes and monitors attached all over his body, to our bright-eyed, bouncy, HUNGRY, happy-to-be-alive boy.

Now, let me be clear, the purpose of this article is not to question the veterinarians who so carefully and skillfully cared for Boog. They do their job well and we are extremely gratefully to have a state-of-the-art emergency/specialty veterinarian nearby.

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Boog, less than one week after coming home, sweet home.

The purpose of this article is to say that sometimes you have to go with your gut, even in the face of questionable odds. If we had just strictly listened to the hard facts on that Wednesday evening, we might have chosen to let Boog go. But sometimes, in the midst of the overwhelming hustle, bustle, black and white with shades of gray world of medical science, you need to mix in a good dose of heartfelt feeling. And so we did. And so Boog came home. And he is very much alive. In fact, just a week following his return to Tails You Win Farm, we celebrated his 10th birthday.

His challenges are not over…remember that biopsy? Well, the news wasn’t good. But my gut feeling is that we do have treasured time to share with our funny little blue dog. My gut says we have today, and most certainly tomorrow. I’ll take one day at a time quite happily and gratefully.

Boog gets to call the shots now. Two weeks ago he almost died. A few days later we almost let someone convince us he needed to die. Almost is my new favorite word. And hey, Dorothy nailed it when she was trying to get the hell out of Oz…there truly is no place like home.

Party on, Boog. Party on.

 

The Little Roomba Who Could. (Or At Least Tries Really Hard.)

roomba 2.5We have a new addition to our home. Jim has named her Robbie (we name everything). I think at first it was actually Robby…but then I heard her distress cry and realized he was a she. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Robbie is a Roomba. You know, one of those nifty little iRobot sweepers. The one that miraculously clears dust and debris from your floors whilst you sit on the couch eating bonbons. Except no. That’s not how it goes here.

In our household, a nifty little robotic floor sweeper has to run a terrifying obstacle course in an effort to perform its pre-programmed mission. And it must also have a chaperone. A diligent, mindful, always-aware chaperone even more dedicated than a teenage girl’s dad supervising his precious child’s first date to a school dance. Scary stuff, people.

And our little Robbie is coming of age in a fast, trial-by-fire manner. Bless her little mechanical heart. There was no way to warn her or to begin to prepare her for the challenges ahead.

I remember the day I first saw her there, on prominent display at Target. Oh sure, I had heard about Roombas before and dreamed of having one as my personal slave…um…assistant. But our house? A little robot that would surely be immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dog hair, dirt, and dust that coats our floors? A whirring, erratic machine not much bigger than a Frisbee and certain to be viewed as a new chew toy by the four-legged members of the family?

Madness, I tell you, madness.

At least until I saw the magic word: SALE. Roomba was on SALE. And it was a good sale. And there was only one box left. One. One chance to experience sit-on-the-couch-and-raise-your-feet-as-she-passes-by bliss.

As I stared at the box that boasted the promise, “The helping hand you need to keep your floors thoroughly clean every day–all at the push of a button,” I could feel others lurking behind me. I was certain if I made one tiny move to the left or right, another shopper would swoop in to snag MY Roomba. MY on-sale Roomba.

So I snatched her up, held her close to my chest, and scurried through the store muttering, “Mine! It’s mine! All mine!” There may or may not have been high-pitched creepy laughter involved.

When I arrived home triumphant in my purchase, Jim solemnly shook his head and said something about a mighty pricy dog toy. Oh he of little faith. I would protect her. I would watch over her like the indentured little Cinderella I hoped she would become. Scary how easily I fell into that evil stepmother role, isn’t it?

So with my guarded, unfounded, blind optimism cheering him on, Jim unpacked little Robbie and set her out on her first mission, our herd of dogs paying rapt attention.

One dog (Kainan…110 pound hulk of a wolfdog) ran out of the room, tail tucked firmly between his hind legs. One dog (Tink…20 pound terror) immediately attacked the Roomba. The rest of the dogs just bounced around in front of it, over it, and all around it.

Within no time at all, we convinced Tink it did not need to die. We lured Kainan back into the room and convinced him that HE was not going to die. And the rest of the dogs lost interest. First hurdle cleared, right? Well…sort of.

You see, Robbie Roomba is an intelligent little machine designed to learn the floor plan of your home so that she can clean more efficiently. Problem is that my floor plan is ever-changing.

In case you don’t yet know us well, you need to know that we have a good number of dogs. Enough dogs to classify me as “a” crazy dog lady, but not quite enough to have me charged as “the” crazy dog lady. Once said herd of dogs no longer found Robbie’s presence entertaining, they fell into “ignore it” mode. You know, that same mode they fall into when you beg them to scootch over to give you more than eight inches of space on the bed.

As dear, determined Robbie blindly felt her way around our home, she bumped into a dog here, a dog there, here a dog, there a dog, everywhere a dog, dog. I can’t imagine what she must have thought.

Do these humans rearrange their furniture on an hourly basis just to torment me?

Am I on candid camera and I will soon be rescued, we’ll all laugh, and I’ll move on to a new home where there’s a modest arrangement of furniture and perhaps one quiet cat?

Sorry, dear Robbie. Fate dealt you a complicated hand.

So far, things are going pretty well. For a device no bigger than one of those stone-things they slide around on the ice in curling, Robbie is able to pick up an astonishing amount of dog hair. No, she doesn’t get all of it in one pass, but she works her little gears off in 50 minute spurts, following which she spends her remaining 10 minutes of battery life bumping and limping back to her home base for that all-important rest and recharge period.

Another huge bonus is that Robbie is willing (forced?) to go places that are really hard for me to reach and are therefore often neglected. The first time she dared venture under our king-size bed, well…let’s just say I heard unmistakable gasping, sputtering, wheezing, and, I believe, whimpering.

On a plus side for the dogs, Robbie unearths toys long-lost to these dark and distant places. Now, when she dares to go where no human has gone in months, the dogs gather in great anticipation for what little Robbie will shove into the light of day.  Balls, chew bones, and squeaky toys abound! What was old is now new again! All hail Robbie the robot!

On a down side, we have to address the elephant in the room. From poor Robbie’s perspective it might as well be the elephant dung in the room. Back to that number of dogs thing…we foster a lot of dog while they wait to find their adoptive homes. That means we house train a lot of dogs. That means there are accidents. Accidents are no bueno for Robbie.

This takes us back to the need for a chaperone thing. I believe the fine MIT grads who developed Robbie and her kind did so in the hope that floors could be cleaned while humans focused their valuable attention elsewhere. But alas, not in THIS house.

Dare I say I hover over Robbie’s every move? I do. I do so in an attempt to ward off certain disaster. Don’t make me say it. You know where I’m headed with this. There are some things Robbie should most definitely NOT run into.

I would like to tell you that it has never happened. I would REALLY like to. But on day two of this new relationship I turned my head for just a moment. A really important little moment. The very moment when our precious new foster puppy felt nature’s call and answered it…right in the path of dear Robbie.

I will spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that it’s fantastic how easily all of Robbie’s brushes and compartments come apart to be cleaned. And cleaned. And cleaned again for good measure. Kudos to you, MIT grads! Robbie was easily physically restored to her former, ready-to-roll condition. Alas, the emotional scars will likely forever be imbedded in her little artificial mind. A mercy reboot would only thrust her into a cruel 50 First Dates-esque learning curve that would prove too painful to witness.

Suffice it to say that we do not take advantage of Robbie’s ability to be programmed so she may roam the house freely while we are away at work. Nope. Not ever going to happen. I’m back to hovering and obsessively sweeping dog hair into her path.

Today I did learn of a new talent Robbie possesses. She can TALK! She can actually tell you where it hurts!

After surveying the living room for any potential Robbie landmines (and by landmines I mean…), I stepped away to eat a bonbon or something. After a few moments I heard, well, I heard nothing.  No whirring little engine-that-could noise. That is never a good sign in Robbie-land. Suddenly I heard a distinctly high-pitched female voice (hence the he-is-a-she revelation), calling for help.

I think she said something like, “For the love of all that is holy, come find me! I need help! I’m choking! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Ok, it may have been a bit more like a monotone voice asking me to check the sweeping brushes for a clog, but I swear it sounded a tad whiny and offended. The crazy thing is that I don’t recall seeing ANYWHERE on the packaging that she could talk! Should I be nervous here?

Anyhow, I cleared the wad of hair from Robbie’s cute little underbelly (we had moved the couch and uncovered a whole new frontier of hair and detritus without warning her. Robbie was apparently not amused.), and sent Robbie back on her merry way.

You know, once we get a few things ironed out, I think this is going to be a beautiful relationship. In fact, Jim has suggested that we should invest in an army of Robbies and her wet-mopping cousins. Oh the fun we could have watching dozen of the little disks coursing hither and yon through our house and through the legs of any number of dogs. I dare say it would become something of a spectator sport, the iRobot Olympics.

In the meantime we will continue to nurture our firstborn, our Robbie. I will dust her, I will clean her brushes, I will help her avoid disaster, and I will feed her unimaginable amounts of dog hair. We’re in this together, kiddo.

Oh, hey Robbie, not to be rude, but you missed a spot over there. Wait! Come back here young lady! Do NOT turn your back on me! What did you just say?

Two Hundred Thirty Two.

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Oh…hey there! Yeah, it’s been awhile. Sorry about that. It’s not you, it’s definitely me.

Yes, 2017 slipped by with barely a word here from me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t have stuff to say. I can always find SOMETHING to say. It’s just that somehow, I didn’t find much time to put everything I had to say down in written form. That may not seem like much of an excuse…you should make time for your passion. You should make time to do the one thing that always centers you and brings you joy.

And yet, time escaped me. When was my last post? June-something? And then I blinked and it was New Year’s Eve. There may have been time travel involved. Yikes!

So here we are.  From June-something to a week into 2018. Seems like a good time to hop back in the old saddle, yes?

Perhaps I have some explaining to do. The two precious faces in the photo above are a good part of the reason for my departure from regular blogging. Those two faces have been through a lot…before coming to our farm, and since. Granted, the “since” part has been positive for them, though it has been a bit tricky convincing them of that at times.

Pictured are Margo and Mabel, two of the twenty-two Dalmatians our little local Dalmatian rescue took in this year.  Of those 22, 18 were rescued from puppy mill auctions. If you don’t know what that is, here’s a brief glimpse.

Puppy mills are commercial facilities where breeding dogs are kept in pens and bred as often as possible to crank out as many puppies as possible. The conditions are generally poor and the quality of life for the breeding dogs is, in my opinion (and the opinion of any rational person), miserable.

Dogs are social animals who need companionship, mental stimulation, and physical exercise. They are denied all of the above in a puppy mill.

The auctions are where the puppy mill operators gather to sell off “stock” they no longer want, and to purchase new stock. It’s a heartbreaking scene for anyone who cares about dogs. They are bought and sold just as you would buy furniture at a yard sale. The highest bidder gets the dog. It doesn’t matter where they are heading or what kind of life will be provided. It’s just about buying and selling. No questions asked.

The puppies produced in puppy mills are generally sold to brokers who in turn sell them to pet stores across the nation. Sometimes, however, entire litters of puppies are taken to auction. In my breed of choice, Dalmatians, that happened a few times this year.

As rescuers, it is a slippery slope to “rescue” dogs from puppy mill auctions because it means you have to basically go in and bid to buy them. So yes, you are paying money to the puppy mill operator for the right to rescue his or her dogs.

I’ve had people argue that rescues buying dogs at auction only lines the pockets of the unscrupulous breeders. My answer to that is simple. The dogs are going to sell on the specified day, at the specified time. Whether they are purchased by people with their best interest at heart, or purchased by another breeder who will plunge them straight back into another breeding facility is irrelevant. The dogs WILL sell. The puppy mill operator will go home with money in his pocket one way or another. We might as well get as many out of the system as we can afford.

I’ve also had many a person insist that we should reason with these “breeders,” try to work something  out before the auction to allow release of the dogs to rescue. Well, that would require the puppy mill operator to care about the dogs. And, in most cases, they don’t. They care about how much money the dogs will bring. It’s their business…their livelihood. Our type of reason has no place in their world.

If you find this mindset appalling, you are my people.

I could go on, and on, and on, but the underbelly of the dog breeding industry is not the point of this article. My last word on the topic is this…if you, as I do, enjoy sharing your life with a purebred dog, turn to a breed rescue or, please, please research your breeders carefully. There are WONDERFUL, caring, educated breeders out there who work so hard  to ensure the ongoing health and welfare of purebred dogs. Don’t be fooled by imposters. Oh, I could write an entire series on the topic and maybe this year I will.  That whole back in the saddle thing.

But I digress. Back to my little subjects in the photo. Margo and Mabel have now been living with us for 232 days. When they came to us with their littermates, Mackenzie and Molly, the sisters did not see humans as a good thing. Their theory was very Animal Farm-esque, four legs good, two legs bad.

What it boils down to is this, for the first 10 months of their young lives, they lived in a puppy mill kennel. They were going to be used as breeders. They missed all key socialization periods. Until May 20th last year, their world was living in a pen together. When the two-legger showed up, you moved away. The two-legger might spray water to wash your urine and feces away. The two-legger might yell or bang metal pans on the fence to get you to move back from the gate so food and water could be set inside.

And that was it. There was no petting. No playing. No soft words as silky ears were rubbed. And so it was…four legs good, two legs bad. Actually, two legs were downright scary.

But then May 20th arrived, and for whatever reason, the person who owned the four sisters decided it was time for them to go. Swapping out for a smaller breed that required less room and less food? Perhaps. Whatever the reason, the four girls were ripped from the only world they knew and tossed in the middle of a busy, dog and human-filled auction house.

Terrifying for them, but truly the best day of their lives because a really nice guy named  Jim was there for them. His bid was the winning bid. He was the one to load the girls into crates in his car to bring them home.

Of course no one told them it was a good day.

I wrote about them previously…back in June (you can read it here!). Contact was not welcome, though they never growled or snapped in fear. The girls were shut down and trembled if we just looked at them. Exciting progress came in the form of peanut butter licked from the very tips of my extended fingers.

Molly, the most willing/least traumatized of the four, left early on with Tom, a very kind man with two happy Dalmatians already living the good life in his home. We all agreed it was in Molly’s best interest to separate her from her siblings and get her into a new routine. We were right. Molly is making great progress with Tom. He is a saint.

The work with the other three continued when something really special happened.  Somewhere along the way, the girls fell in love, head over heels, with another of our foster dogs–a wolfdog named Kenai. Though the girls played, romped, and learned from all of our dogs, I credit Kenai with their most profound breakthrough.

Black and white 1Kenai was the star football player in the eyes of his adoring spotted cheerleaders. Kenai was the patient big brother. He let the girls crawl all over him. He ran and played with them. He rested in the shade with them. He also helped show them that two legs weren’t always bad.

Most importantly, he taught them how to stop worrying so much and to kick up their heels and have some fun.

Because Kenai adored me and Jim, the shy girls started trusting a bit. A tiny bit.

Now we can actually pet them. There are still dog-imposed boundaries that need to be gently broken (you may pet us out in the big yard where escape is easy if necessary, you may also pet us through the fence of our run, but we are still not sure about much contact inside the house where escape is not guaranteed), but still, each day we see baby steps.

Where we once saw shiny, glazed, panic-filled eyes, we now see recognition, curiosity, and a tiny hint of blossoming trust. Where there were once shivering limbs, we are now greeted with wagging tails.

IMG_7312 finalThings even progressed to a point where Mackenzie was able to move on as well. Dear Tom came back for another. He thought Molly would enjoy having one of her sisters join her and Mac was the second-most willing of the group. Though she still has a long way to go in the socialization department, I know she’s in excellent hands. Tom is kind, patient and completely devoted to his dogs. Mac is going to be fine…well…once she realizes that Tom doesn’t have to move to the opposite end of the house for her to feel safe coming inside from the yard.

Baby steps. She’ll get there.

IMG_7606Kenai has now placed in a loving permanent home, but never fear. The sisters were more than happy to transfer their crushes to our resident big guy wolfdog. Uncle Kainan has stepped in and the lessons continue.

I don’t know how long it will take for these two girls to trust enough to move on to homes of their own. Or maybe I should say I don’t know how long it will take to find homes for them that have just the right ingredients for success. But I do know it will happen. It happened years ago for two puppy mill survivors named Jack and Jill (Thank you Syl and Jim!). I believe it took about 425 days for them to begin to really trust.

Margo and Mabel will get there in their own time. We just take it one day at a time, always looking forward to the day when two legs can be seen as a really good thing. But right now, we’re just looking ahead to day 233.

We think it will be a really great day.

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PB, Hold the J

M girlsDog training is not about following rules. It’s about understanding that each dog is different, each a little puzzle waiting to be solved.

Well I now have four very intricate, spotted puzzles and I’m determined to solve them.

Meet Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo. These girls are just nine months old and were recently liberated, in a coordinated effort by a rescue village, from life in a puppy mill. If you’re not familiar with puppy mills, think of a little doggy concentration camp where the dogs are kept in small cages and pens solely for the purpose of breeding. They crank out as many puppies as they can and that’s their life. Litter after litter until they can’t produce any longer or the “miller” decides to close out a specific breed.

That’s how these girls came into our  rescue. The puppy mill operator who had them decided to get out of Dalmatians…likely in favor of something smaller that would take up less space and eat less food. It’s all about the almighty dollar right? Ah, but that is a soapbox for another day, another post.

Back to my four M-girls.

These sweet dogs were born in a commercial breeding facility and grew up there. They have likely lived together the whole time, sharing a pen. They have never been someone’s beloved little puppy. They have never known soft blankets, cushions, squeaky toys, or belly rubs. They had each other and likely someone who came along to toss food at them and clean their pen from time to time.

All of the key socialization periods that help puppies learn to live happily with humans were ignored. Afterall, these girls were not to be pets. They were to be breeders. And that cycle would have started right about now as two of the girls popped into their first heat cycles before I could get them spayed.

But thankfully for my M-girls, they are no longer in a puppy mill. Nope, instead they are in our home, currently living in one of our indoor/outdoor dog runs (this allows us to safely contain them while getting to know them and making sure they are healthy). Jim and I spend time with them every single day, several times a day. I’ve even found Jim reclining in the run taking a little cat nap just to give the girls a chance to get  used to him. Our immediate goal is to simply teach them that humans really are a good thing.

So far, they’re not convinced.

Molly is the most willing to learn. She now greets us with a hopeful look (gained through SO many cookies!) and a  wagging tail.  Oh sure, at the slightest “wrong” move she’ll still scramble away from us, clawing her way out the dog door, but then she comes right back. She’s very close to deciding we might be worth getting to know a bit better.

MacKenzie is right behind Molly. She’s interested in the crazy humans who coo to her and promise her all kinds of good things. Margo is thinking it over from a distance…peering through the dog door flap. Poor Mabel, however, is still terrified, huddling in the corner with a blank stare on her face.

So we have a heck of a puzzle here. How do we get these girls to look forward to seeing us instead of fleeing everytime we step in their run?

Tonight my latest/greatest training tool is a jar of cheap, gooey peanut  butter. Yes, PB. No J. Too sticky.

Three of the girls (not Mabel…yet) have been darting in to grab cookies from us, but they take the cookie and run. Dine and dash at its finest.

But peanut butter on the end of my finger? That’s a different story.

To enjoy the peanut butter the girls have to stretch their sweet little necks out and lick it off of the ends of my fingers. And while my hands are a bit scary, they really LOVE peanut butter.

I’m accomplishing a couple of good things here. First, positive association with Nancy. Second, can’t grab the treat and run (hopefully!). They have to stick around a bit to enjoy this treat. And most importantly, my hand reaching toward them isn’t quite so scary now. In fact, it’s delicious!

I do need you to understand this  is taking some dedication on my part because I HATE peanut butter. I do. I know. I’m weird. It’s almost un-American. I can’t help it. Even the smell of the stuff repulses me. So actually wearing it…and that smell sticks with you…is true dedication to the cause.

But it’s worth it. They’re worth it. And someday Mabel, Molly, MacKenzie, and Margo will go on to new homes to enjoy very good lives. The lives they should have had all along.

I think I can tolerate a little eau de peanut butter to help that happen.

(Stay tuned for progress reports!)

 

Today.

Amy close-up

Today, I made a tag for Amy’s collar. It has other phone numbers on it. Not mine. Not Jim’s.

Today, little Amy becomes Ruby. They are both fine names. The latter has great implications. It is a name a new family has picked for her. It means today is a great day.

Today a puppy gets to go home. It means another day of change for her, and I’m sure some confusion. But she’ll handle it. I know she will. I have picked THIS home for her and it’s right. It’s wonderful. She’ll have a doggy brother. She’ll have two humans to adore her. She’ll have everything she needs and wants. She’ll have the best life.

Today my heart aches just a bit. So does Jim’s. It’s quite impossible not to get attached. They live in our home. They sleep with us. They play with us. They come here out of need. They leave here with our love.

And yes, today is a great day. Though our hearts pull a bit at goodbye, we are thrilled for what is ahead for this little girl who is so brave and so deserving. No more question marks. No more uncertaintly. No more puppy mill life for you, sweet Amy. Go be the best Ruby you can be!

Today we turn back into the house and look immediately into two new sets of hopeful eyes. My heart swells filling in the tiny cracks that were there just a moment ago.

I think I’ll call you Peanut and Olivia. For now.

Peanut and Olivia

 

 

One More Glance.

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I look in the rear view mirror and see his wide smile filling the frame. Another happy car ride for you. You have no idea that life is about to change.

A car ride! This is the best. Of course, any time I get to spend with her is the best. Except maybe that time she took me to the funny-smelling place where I took an unexpected nap and woke up missing some pretty important body parts. But that aside, car rides are great!

I’m babbling to him. I’m telling him about all of the good things that are about to happen. “Bruce! You’re going to have your own person to love. You’ll have a real home. You’ll be king of the castle…the only dog. All of the toys will be yours. All of the treats…yours. You’ll be allowed on the couch. You’ll have a yard! You’ll love having your own yard, won’t you boy? Right, good boy?” I think my dialogue is more for me than him. Does he notice the little warble in my voice?

She sure has a lot to say today. Usually she just listens to her books when we ride together. Blah, blah, blah, Bruce, blah, blah, blah, good boy, blah, blah, treats. She sounds kind of funny…WAIT…WHAT? WAS THAT…SQUIRREL! Was that a squirrel? Hey She-person…SQUIRREL!

Here it is. This is the address. I peer out of the window of my Jeep at a tidy little house with a small park next door. This looks good. I feel good about this. I take a deep breath and turn to Bruce, “Ready big guy? Do you want to go see Keith?”

Blah, blah, big guy (I love it when she calls me that). She sounds cheery. Too cheery. Something’s up. She-person smells kind of…what it that…nervous? Excited? Kind of like we all smell when we’re waiting for our breakfast at the place where I live with all of the other dogs. Excited, and a bit worried like maybe today they’ll forget to feed me this time. But they never do. They never forget.

I get out of the Jeep and open the rear passenger door. Bruce is right there to deliver a big sloppy kiss across the middle of my face. “Bruce! Ooooh….that was a messy one, big guy.” I wipe the saliva off my face with my sleeve, hoping there’s not a giant mascara smear to go with it. Bruce is a ninja when it comes to delivering those enthusiastic tongue washes. I snap the leash to his harness and let him jump out of the car.

Wait for it…wait for it. HAH! Got her. She’s so easy…and she acts all grossed out, but I know better. Ha ha ha ha. Got her good. I made that one extra drooly. You’re welcome She-person. Oh! My leash! Yay! A walk!

As we head across the front lawn to the house, Keith meets us at the door. He’s a tall, quiet man whose resting face has a gentle smile, unlike my resting face, which I’m told looks a bit angry. Who knew? I’m going to work on that. A resting face with a faint smile is so much more pleasant. It’s one of the reasons I feel so good about Keith. He’s calm, quiet, and easy-going.

Oh hey! It’s that man I met at the place where I live with all the other dogs. He’s nice. He took me for a walk yesterday and he knows all the good places I like to be scratched. How cool to get to see him again. This place smells like him all over. I think this is where he stays. We go inside and She-human takes my leash off. Permission to explore granted! Let’s get busy nose!

It’s a great sign. Bruce seems to remember Keith and seems very relaxed here. He’s off snooping around and Keith seems equally relaxed about it. It’s a nice home, but not too fancy. That’s good. I like homes where no one freaks out if the dog jumps on the couch or sloshes a bit of water when he laps with that wide grinning mouth. Oh hey, Bruce’s resting face is a smile too.

The humans follow along with me as I follow my nose. So many new smells! Oooo…this is a food room. I like the smells in here for sure. And this door seems to have a whole other world behind it. I press my snout hard to the base of the door and snort a bit as I inhale everything concealed on the other side. It smells wonderful! Someone needs to open this door for me. Oh, thanks He-human Keith…

We follow Bruce who immediately finds the kitchen and then the door that leads to the backyard. I tell Keith I’d like to see the yard, so he opens the door and Bruce rushes out with a quick swish of his tail. He’s in his glory trotting quickly around the perimeter of the fenced area. He stops to sniff, hike his leg, and take a quick back-scratching roll. Then he finds a spot a bit away from us and relieves himself. Well, I guess he’s not nervous. All systems seem to be working just fine. Make yourself at home Bruce. Finally. Make yourself at home.

Oh…grass! This is wonderful grass. And this huge tree! Oh, I know squirrels live in this tree. They have a real surprise in store for them if they come out right now. I’m pretending I’m not watching…but I’m watching. Oh yeah, I’m watching. This is great. I’m going over here to leave a little present. You know…the kind She-human seems to love to collect in little plastic bags. Humans are so weird.

After a few minutes, we call Bruce and head back inside. I tell Keith that everything looks good to me. He smiles and says he’s very excited and that he thinks Bruce will be a perfect fit. He’s really missed having a dog in the house since his old pit mix passed away at 17 glorious years of age. I agree…this feels like the perfect fit. I squat down to talk with Bruce for a moment.

“I love you, Bruce. Be a very good boy for Keith. This is your perfect home, big guy.”

With a quick kiss to his nose, I stand and turn for the door. In more than 25 years of fostering dogs and placing them in new homes, I’ve found it’s best to just go quickly. No prolonged goodbyes, no emotional hugs. Just turn and go, Nancy. You’ve done your job. This is the home Bruce deserves.

She-human and the nice man she calls Keith are talking again, so I’m taking the opportunity to sniff some more. I found a bag sitting by the door that smells exactly like my delicious food. And hey, there’s a plastic bag-not the kind they put my outside presents in, the carrying stuff kind of plastic bag-I think I smell my favorite toy in there and…yes! Some of those chewy things I love so much. Does Keith have a dog? I smell a dog, a very old dog, but I haven’t seen him. I don’t think he’s still here. But that is definitely my food and my stuff. What’s up with that?

I come back over to She-human and she gets right down in easy tongue-to-face range. Silly human! Her eyes seem a little bit wet…not the leaky kind of wet, just the shiny kind…and she’s saying another word I hear a lot from her…love. I understand that word because it makes me feel all good inside and usually comes with hugs and scratches in all the good places. I love you too, She-human. Then she says something about the nice he-human, Keith. I like Keith. His face smiles a lot like mine.

Then, kind of suddenly, she kisses me on the nose and turns to head out the door. I try to go with her, because I guess it’s time to go back to the place where I live with all of the other dogs. But Keith takes hold of my collar and says something about a treat, so I turn to see what he’s offering. I’m always up for a tasty treat.

I march quickly toward my Jeep. Don’t look back, I think. If he’s watching, you’ll just make it harder for him…and yourself. But I just can’t resist one fast glance over my shoulder. Through the glass storm door I can see Keith smiling down at Bruce, his new dog. Bruce has his back to the door and his tail is wagging wildly as he looks up into Keith’s face. Perfect, I think. It’s the best gift a foster dog can give me. No fuss and worry when I leave.

As I unlock the car door and climb inside, I whisper to the Universe knowing Bruce will somehow hear me. “Have the best life, big dog. Be happy, be safe, but know I’m always nearby if you need me. Always.” With that, I practice my new resting pleasant face and drive away.

Keith wasn’t bluffing! He did have a very nice dog biscuit for me. I crunch it up in two quick chomps. And then I remember…She-human. I turn to look through the door that seems like you can walk right through it, but trust me, you can’t. I’ll only make THAT mistake once. She-human is in the car, starting to pull away without me. It’s funny because I’m actually not worried. Something here feels pretty right.

I raise my most excellent nose into the air and sniff deeply. There it is. That’s her scent. I store the memory of that smell in a special spot deep in my mind. I will never forget it. And somehow, I think I’ll get to see her again from time to time. I think…no, I know. I know she’ll always be nearby. Always.

love-you-bruceBruce was a foster dog at my boarding facility, Pooches, for a long time. He showed up in our parking lot a tired, thin dog wearing a ridiculously thick collar with a heavy, industrial metal clasp hanging from it. It was obvious that Bruce had lived his life on a chain somewhere. Perhaps a guard dog, maybe a pet forgotten in a backyard.

We took him in. We helped him get healthy. We learned to trust each each other. We learned to love each other. Bruce was a very popular guy with everyone who worked at Pooches and everyone who met him on our daily walks. But he and I had something special. He was my big guy.

Bruce and I walked together nearly every day for about three and a half years. To some it seemed his perfect home might never show up…not many people line up to adopt middle-aged, 80 pound pit bull mixes. But I knew it would happen someday.

Bruce’s happily-ever-after finally arrived. It was a great day when I left him in a new, happy home. Oh sure, I miss him. I miss our walks and those big sloppy kisses, too. Every time I pass by the kennel run that was his at Pooches and see a different dog there, my heart tugs a bit. But then I smile knowing that Bruce has a real home and his very own person now.

Love you big guy. Have the BEST life.

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This is our scary face. I think I’m scarier than Bruce.

 

Good Dog. Seriously. Say It.

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Photo by Jim Thomason

I have a lot of pets. And many of them are pet peeves.

Ba-dum-dum. Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.

But seriously folks, I do have a lot of pet peeves, especially when it comes to the animals that share our world. And hey, one of my first pet peeves is that I don’t call them “pets.” I’m going to admit it. That word annoys me.

Pet is something I do to greet my dogs, to comfort them, to calm myself. It’s an verb for me, not a noun. Using the word pet to describe my dogs actually seems demeaning to me. My dogs, horses, chickens, unintentional house mice, etc., are my companions. They are my animal family. They are not furry/feathered humans, nor are they little slaves sent here to do my bidding. They are animals who are willing and kind enough to abandon a lot of their natural instincts to try to co-exist in our crazy, human-focused world.

That’s pretty amazing to me. I think it deserves a little respect.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the term “fur babies.” Nope. Let’s not go there.

Today’s pet peeve, however, actually focuses on how we speak to our animals, how we choose to try to communicate with them. As a professional dog trainer (fancy certificate, letters after my name and all!), I get a lot of calls about “bad dogs.”

“My dog is stubborn.”

“My dog won’t listen.”

“My dog is out of control.”

I listen. I ask questions. I imagine what I will find when we finally meet. And I’m usually spot on.

What I generally find on  visits with “out of control” dogs is a complete lack of clear, meaningful, and consistent communication. So what I’m telling you is that 98.9% of the time…it’s not the dog’s fault.

And more than a lack of dog training know-how, I have found that it’s actually a mindset issue. As humans, we still feel the need to be very large and in charge when it comes to our animals. And when other people come around, it seems humans often go into hyper-militant mode, as if to suggest that their dogs behave like perfect little angels every moment of the day…except right now. You should see how people act when an actual dog trainer steps into the mix. It’s as if everyone suddenly has something to prove.

“Sit. Bo-bo, sit. SIT. SIT. BO-BO SIT. Sit down. SIT. YOU SIT RIGHT NOW. Bo-Bo…come here. SIT. COME. NO. NOOOOO. SITSITSIT.”

Kind of makes me want to toss an “h” in that sit somewhere.

And then I get asked how to “correct” that. “How do I make him mind?” “See how stubborn he is?”

OK. I can’t give an entire dog training 101 here (because hey, I don’t give that away for free! Bills to pay, people. Dog food to buy), but what I can do is help you get your head in the game. The right game.

First, dogs require constant feedback when they are learning. That means as good as you are at telling them when they are wrong, you need to be equally as good at telling them when they are right. Equally good. Tell them when they are RIGHT. In fact, spend more time doing that than you do telling them how wrong they are.

I’m going to let you think about that one for a moment. Here’s a gratuitously cute puppy photo you can ponder whilst you chew on that paragraph…

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Ok…all done pondering? Great. So here’s my next free tip: Let’s change your vocabulary.

Sometimes changing your mindset is as easy as changing the words you choose. Here are my new training words for you:

  1. Instead of train, use the word teach.
  2. Instead of command, use the word cue.
  3. Instead of correct, use the word redirect.

Let’s start with those three and see how it goes. Teach, cue, redirect. Doesn’t that feel better already? Just switching to those words and paying attention to their meaning, their undertone, could make a world of difference in the relationship you have with your dog.

This is not a battle. Dogs have no hidden agenda to overthrow the world. They repeat behavior that gets them attention. They avoid things that are unpleasant (and we wonder why they don’t always come when called…). Let me give you some real-life examples.

I visited a home with an “out of control” dog. The dog was said to have horrible manners when guests came over. The dog wouldn’t listen. The dog jumped all over people.

“He knows better. He’s just being stubborn.”

The moment I hear that stubborn word, I wonder which being in the house it really describes. And then I giggle to myself. Usually to myself.

So I asked my client to show me the dog and let me see how they were dealing with the situation. That’s when I got the SIT-SIT-SIT-NOOOO-NOOOO-DOWN-SIT-OFFFFFF-NOOOOOOOOO routine. I listened to the tone of their voices. I saw the chaos escalate. I saw the humans growing frustrated and more excited. I saw the dog doing the same.

And even when the dog wasn’t actually trying to jump on me, the humans were still barking commands.

So when the dog came toward me and kept four feet on the floor, I quietly said, “Yes! Good boy.” Then I offered the dog a little treat.

I backed a few steps away and invited the dog to follow me. I had his attention now because I was speaking softly, I wasn’t stressed. He liked that. He followed.

When he came to me, I asked him to sit. He did. I said “Yes!” I gave him a tiny cookie. I praised him. Then I backed away and did it a few more times. Pretty soon, every time I cued the dog to “come,” he ran to me and slammed his butt to the ground with his tail wagging happily.

I praised him. And looky there, I used all three of our new vocabulary words.

I taught the dog what I expected instead of just waiting for him to screw up.

I helped the dog learn a cue, one indicating what I expected, and also a word that marked the moment when he did something right. “Yes.” I captured behavior I liked.

And I redirected the dog. The dog was jumping on people because he was friendly and wanted attention. I showed him a proper way to earn attention. He listened. He learned.

Here’s another example. I visited a family who had a dog that would not come when called. The dog would play keep-away, staying just out of reach. The family was frustrated.

So I asked them to show me.

We went out in the yard. The dog chased a bird. When he ran to the other side of the yard, one of the humans said “Fritz, COME!”

Now, don’t think for one second that dogs don’t understand the tone of our voices. They do.

When this person said “Fritz, COME,” the sharp tone me want to back away slowly. Seriously…why do we have to change everything about ourselves when we go into dog training mode?

So Fritz, who was still on the lookout for that bird, did hear his person say COME. And he did look back at us. That glance back was the moment of truth…what would happen next?

Well, the owner repeated his command even more sternly, “FRITZ! COME! COME!” It sounded angry to me. It sounded angry to Fritz too.

“FRITZ. RIGHT NOW. COME HERE RIGHT NOW. FRRRRRRITZ!”

Fritz didn’t come. In fact, he glanced away (which is actually dog-speak for “hey, human, chill out! Let’s all calm down).

“See? He’s stubborn.”

Huh. Ok.

“Let’s try something different,” I suggested.

I went to within a few feet of Fritz. In a happy voice, I said, “Fritz, come!”

The moment Fritz looked at me, I said, “YES! Goood boy! Good!”

Guess what? Fritz came right to me. Because I praised him in the moment he acknowledged my cue by looking at me, I gave him a reason to want to come to me. We communicated. I was teaching Fritz that the cue “come” would be followed by something good/fun/rewarding/calm/happy.

Fritz liked that. I wasn’t scary. I was nice. That made Fritz feel good and want to be near me.

So Fritz’s dad, who was also a really nice person when he dropped his alpha dog trainer persona, gave it a whirl. When Fritz heard the cue “come” and glanced at his person, he was praised. Oh hey, Fritz liked that and came RUNNING on cue.

Just capturing that one little questioning glace back and giving Fritz the promise of good things to come, made all the difference in the world.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? The true key to good dog training is to be a teacher, not a trainer. And to give clear praise when praise is due. And perhaps most importantly to recognize when praise is due. Be in the moment. Your dog is.

OH if only I had a dime for every time I’ve seen people continually telling their dogs what NOT to do, but never capturing that moment when the dog is actually doing what they want. I would be a wealthy, wealthy retired dog trainer.

Think it through. Go talk to your dog. Talk. Don’t holler, yell, get all stern and scary. It’s not about intimidation. It’s about building communication.

Now get out there and play with your dog. Oh, and here’s another gratuitously adorable puppy photo as your reward. Good human. Goooood.

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(Bo-Bo and Fritz are not actual dog names. But the stories above are quite true. So true. Very true. Let’s just let all of my training clients wonder if it’s them…)